One thing about proposal writing and well, life in general, is that we ignore the good advice that has existed since time began. I’m sure every language has its idiom that says the faster we go the less we get done. In English we use ‘more haste less speed’, which I know makes little sense when you consider it literally, but basically means, when you hurry more you end up slower.
One thing I have been really conscious of doing recently is slowing down, I’ve slowed down my client enrollment process. I’ve slowed down my day and I’ve slowed down my to do list.
And you know what? It was a really difficult thing to do at first, slowing down causes a lot of anxiety. You have this urge to do more, but taking your time means you achieve more. And it doesn’t mean you do less, my day is just as full as it was when I was rushing around, but I end up getting more things done that actually take me further in my business and life.
So if you are an independent proposal writer or responsible for getting funding for your organisation. Here are my thoughts about the areas that you need to spend more time on when developing Horizon 2020 proposals.
Good enough isn’t good enough
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to find a client or trying to find partners for your proposal.
You want to win more proposals?
Then selecting the very best people to work with automatically increases your chances of winning. And by the very best, I don’t mean they have a nice website, CV or are market leaders. This business is about people, make sure the people you work with are people you can trust to deliver.
Before selecting someone to be a client or partner, they have to prove to you that they can deliver. Develop an enrollment process that confirms the people you want to work with can be trusted to deliver. You don’t want to be left 20 minutes before the proposal deadline waiting for someone to send you missing information. Spend the time getting to know your partners and experience working with them before you make a commitment.
Apply for the right thing, not everything
I’ve seen this many times, and I have been guilty of it myself, trying to fit a proposal idea into the wrong call. Even now that Horizon 2020 calls are wider in scope it still doesn’t work. Before you rush to apply for that next call, ask yourself if you are ready, have the right idea, and have the right partners?
The current 14% success rate means you should be more targeted with your applications, and not to submit as many as possible in the hope some will be successful. Take your time, target the right proposal and spend the time to develop the strongest proposal you can. Working in Horizon 2020 funding is a medium to long term strategy. Correct investment in skills and resource will pay you back, but you may lose in the short term.
The more proposals you try to write, the less time you have to spend on each one, reducing your overall quality.
Spend more time talking through your proposal with your partners
Proposal development is slow thinking, you need to spend time talking through your proposal in detail. Many times I see potential consortiums not spending enough time to really talk through the assumptions and text of their proposal.
Chris Haenen, director of EU Funding, GE said “The amount of work that comes with a full proposal is substantial (approximately 500-700 hours)…”. You should be spending this time talking through the proposal with partners at every level. Being really concrete with with proposal, removing assumptions and being clear about your idea will produce a strong proposal.
Proposal development is an organic process but needs guidance
As with all organic systems, things need time to grow and development, but don’t allow branches to shoot off all over the place. You need to structure your discussions and development. Spending more time developing the proposal, may mean you allow the proposal to go out of scope. Keep control of the process, have clear goals for discussions, and keep the proposal in scope. Scope creep and developing something for you and not for the call will decrease your chances of winning.
Review the proposal text regularly, and bring people back on scope continually throughout the process.
Copy and paste is lazy – develop original content
Just because the dissemination section worked in the last proposal, it isn’t acceptable to copy and paste it into the next proposal. Every section should be developed to support this project. With competition being so tight, making sure that your project is aligned across all sections – Impact – Objectives – Dissemination – Work stream – is important. You’ll may pick up enough points to push you over the threshold or rank you higher.
Read the guidance documents, read the call, read the policy, read the news
Spend the time reading everything you can about the call and guidance documentation. Understand how the proposal will be evaluated, understand the guidance text, read the policy backgrounds. All this information can help you score more in the proposal.
Make sure you cover all the evaluation points, review the proposal with the evaluation matrix, and show that you have a deep knowledge of the context around your proposal and the call. This also helps when you are thinking about your impact in the market, take the time to understand the market before you try to understand the impact.
Frankly if you aren’t prepared to spend the time to develop your proposal, don’t even start. This isn’t a hobby that can be fitted in around your other work. A professional athlete doesn’t enter the competition without having done the preparation work before hand.
Make sure you have the right attitude, it is a competition not a lottery, treat it as such.